South Carolina comes through death and destruction with hope

AP News
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Posted: Dec 28, 2015 11:58 AM
South Carolina comes through death and destruction with hope

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The police shooting of an unarmed black man in North Charleston. The killing of nine people during Bible study at a historic African-American church in Charleston. Historic flooding that dropped nearly half their yearly rain fall in less than two days. The Confederate flag flown on the Statehouse grounds coming down after multiple other efforts had failed.

The past year has been one of significant change for South Carolina. Here are a series of snapshots about the key moments and players in 2015:

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WALTER SCOTT

Before his death was shown around the world and he became a symbol of the ongoing debate over police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, Walter Scott was just a 50-year-old forklift driver at a warehouse and a father behind on his child support payments.

He was pulled over on April 4 for a broken brake light by North Charleston Officer Michael Slager. People go to jail all the time in South Carolina for missing child support payments and Scott, who was behind on his, called his mother from his car to say he might need her help getting bail.

Moments later, he ran from his car and around the corner. Slager ran after him toward a vacant field. A passer-by captured what happened next on his cellphone. The video showed Slager firing eight shots at Scott's back. Scott was struck by several bullets and fell.

The shooting happened in a city whose officers faced years of accusations of mistreating minorities.

Scott's family called for calm, especially after Slager's swift arrest, saying they did not want Scott's memory soiled by violence.

A co-worker of Scott said at the time it was a fitting tribute. "He wouldn't hurt a fly, man," Ronald Smith said.

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JOE RILEY

In his 40th and final year as Charleston's mayor, Joe Riley faced his most trying time.

The man who steered the city through Hurricane Hugo in 1989 found his toughest moments on a hot, sticky summer night when what he called "pure, pure concentrated evil" came to a church in his 345-year-old city.

After a call at 9:30 p.m. June 17, Riley hurried to historic Emanuel AME Church where nine black parishioners had been shot and killed during a Bible study.

In the days following, Riley again became the face of the historic city, comforting victims, attending funerals and being a voice of calm.

"I knew that in this incident everything I did, everything I said, had to be perfect," to ensure calm prevailed, Riley said.

The city — and indeed the whole nation — seemed to come together in the wake of the shootings, with thousands gathering on sweeping Ravened Bridge over the Cooper River in a show of unity several days later. President Obama and other dignitaries traveled to Charleston to pay their respects for those who died. More than $5 million has been donated by thousands of people to help support the victims' families and fund college scholarships for Charleston-area students.

Riley has made it clear that he will continue to work on the issue of gun violence after he leaves office.

"We do not want to encroach on law-abiding citizens' rights to own a gun but we must prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands," Riley said at an event earlier this month at Emanuel to announce a new effort to curb gun violence.

The suspected killer in the Charleston shootings, Dylan Roof, was able to buy the gun that was used in the shootings because of a record keeping problem that prevented federal officials from disqualifying him before a three-day deadline expired.

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RUSSELL OTT

Russell Ott knew that the Confederate flag flying outside the South Carolina statehouse had to come down, and it had to come down now - not later.

The eyes of the nation and the world were squarely focused on his place of work and the little known 37-year-old House member who took over his dad's seat back in 2013 was having trouble believing what was happening. He hadn't made a passionate speech imploring his colleagues to let go of the symbol of a bygone era, but he firmly believed it was time for it to happen and he didn't want to see the legislature and the state blow their chance of having it happen and risk looking like fools or obstructionists.

Gov. Nikki Haley had said less than a week after the slayings at Emanuel AME Church that the flag should come down and the state Senate had reached the same conclusion.

But as the sun set on July 8, the people who wanted the flag removed were stunned. Flag supporters in the house suddenly appeared to have enough votes for an amendment to the bill backed by Haley and the Senate that would postpone its passage, keeping the rebel banner flying outside the chambers. The flag supporters wanted a guarantee that the flag would be sent to a museum and they were willing to hold up the process for it, even if it meant going against the rising tide of support to bring it down.

Ott has been around the Legislature but never before had been a key figure. He lobbied for farmers for nearly a decade before replacing his dad and in three years had been the sponsor of one bill that has become law — creating a migratory waterfowl committee. But he knew parliamentary rules and he knew there was an arcane, rarely used way that he could get the flag supporters what they wanted and also keep the state on pace to bring the banner down.

His goal was simple. The longer the debate went on, the more likely it was that the whole process would get derailed.

He and his colleagues went to work, twisting arms, holding last minute votes and watching the clock tick past midnight to allow them to vote on the final measure during a new day.

At 1 a.m. the bill finally passed. On Friday July 10 the flag finally came down. In South Carolina, however, the debate over the fate of the flag still rages on.

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MAJ. GEN. ROBERT LIVINGSTON

It was the most important mission of South Carolina National Guard commander Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston's life, directing thousands of soldiers and civilians during South Carolina's historic floods.

Livingston was a true soldier working with Gov. Nikki Haley to carry out her wishes and by her side when she gave the public updates.

But people around the state left little doubt that Livingston's preparation in the days and years before the floods, and his decisive action as the disaster unfolded, prevented a terrible situation from being so much worse.

"We were rescuing people at the same time we were putting things together back in Columbia," Livingston said.

Livingston helped get clean water into the pipes at Columbia hospitals worried about how many critically ill patients might die if they had to close and move them. His soldiers saved dozens of lives with air and boat rescues and helped repair washed out roads and bridges. They averted what would have been a disaster on top of a disaster by keeping Columbia's water system running and water coming from almost 400,000 taps by fixing a canal breach and laying pipe to get water into the treatment plant.

"A lot of the guys who were doing a lot of discussion had built roads and dams and things like that down in Ecuador and Honduras and places like that back in the 1980s and 90s," Livingston said. "They understood building structures in less than ideal conditions."

Now Livingston laughs that he has another set of problems, created by well-meaning South Carolinians who poured kindness at his soldiers for weeks.

"The support from the people of South Carolina was just tremendous," Livingston said "I'm having to put half of my soldiers on the weight control program now because they got fed so many doughnuts, cookies and everything else."

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This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Slager's name in the first item and the spelling of Ott's name in the third item.